The phrase “whether it’s intentional or not” is as crucial to a music writer as “no offense, but” is to the general population. Both are expressions that allow someone to introduce a controversial or perhaps conflicting statement without the concern of the intended target accepting said statement as a genuine affront or undisputed truth.
Case 1: “No offense, but your chicken cacciatore looks and smells like a bag of garbage pulled out of a burning dumpster.”
Case 2: “Whether it’s intentional or not, Inquisition’s music sounds like the coronation ceremony for the crowning of a new Skeksis emperor.”
With that in mind: Whether it’s intentional or not, Deeper Than Sky is the most invigorating and uplifting metal album I’ve heard since Lost Horizon’s Awakening the World. Perhaps that doesn’t come across as such a terribly contentious statement, and sure, the two are coming from totally different ballparks, but it occurs to me that “unbridled joy” might not be the intended fallout VHOL was hoping to produce when they kicked this record into the speakers. In truth, there’s an energizing sense of urgency and a hell of a lot of aggression tacked to the overall design that kills any notion of outright giddiness, but the manner in which guitarist John Cobbett amplifies the hyper-charged invasion with his fiery brand of weedly-weedly lead work powers the entire trip directly into an electric fence with a truly massive grin. As an example, opener “The Desolate Damned” jumps from the gate with the kind of triumphant posturing that makes one feel as if you could save a careening airplaine from hurtling into the earth with your bare hands, and the glowing “Red Chaos” is the most perfect modern interpretation of the bullet-driven Power & Pain-era of Whiplash these ears have heard in years.
Even when a measure dips into a quieter, more somber fix – the 3:50 mark of the kaleidoscopic 12-minute title cut, for example – there’s still an air of optimism that keeps the listener from feeling downright crummy. All this enthusiasm is significant, not only because it’s invigorating, but also because it enables VHOL to stand out during an age where darkness and negativity always manage to land the glossy covers. This band, unlike so many of their current peers, use brightness to their advantage – a refreshing experience.
And if this ain’t your first dance with this troupe, you’ll hear clear correlations to the 2013 self-titled debut. Vocalist Mike Scheidt still spends a good deal of time shoring up the gruff “Tom Warrior colliding with Ron Broder” delivery that strengthens the caustic component, but he adds more dimension in 2015 by including a proportionate amount of clean wails that’s sure to please fans intimately familiar with his doomier enterprise. Additionally, the depth of veteran experience and each members’ clear music fanaticism continues to ensure that nearly any avenue is still fair game: jazz, hardcore punk (“3AM” – zounds), thrash, ancient metal and black metal. A tune like “Paino” wraps so much blitzing weirdness in its scant 2.5 minutes you won’t know whether to skank like you’re getting walloped by “Quest for Herb,” or tap-dance at a 100mph as that blazing piano plays you off the stage. In short, there’s enough going within these 43-minutes that multiple spins are essential.
But the all-out blitz is Deeper Than Sky’s golden rule, and it achieves that principle with an extra heaping dose of bombastic thrashing fury. This thing drills home the aggression of early Whiplash, the fierce velocity of Wehrmacht, the daredeviltry of Coroner, and the hammering drum & bass punk slant of Voivod from start to finish, with brief respites granted via swift turns into quieter slices that really help to balance out all the energy.
Those riffs, though. No offense, but if the 4:40 mark of “The Desolate Damned” and 7:45 into the title cut don’t make you feel like you just took five across the lip from a 30ft Fred G. Sanford, you might want to consider turning in your “I Am a Decent Human Being” card and just jump into a raging tire fire already.
There’s really not a lot to pick apart, unless you happen to hate metal that lets the good times roll and you mostly tune in for the genre’s dominating negativity. That’s a fair criticism, I’d say, and there are obviously plenty of other releases more deserving of your attention if that’s the case. But if you’re the type who appreciates the exhilaration metal’s capable of stirring, Deeper Than Sky is your ticket to ride. The band’s debut did a great job of landing VHOL on the map, but this thing makes it clear that they’re here to stay and have an abundance of really, really loud things to say.
Whether it’s intentional or not, Deeper Than Sky is more urgent than Foreigner’s love can be.